Every athlete who has made it to the Olympic Games is undoubtedly inspirational. They possess extreme discipline, talent, and prowess in their chosen sport, and the unseen hours they’ve spent training and working towards these few shining moments are seemingly overshadowed by their short moments in the spotlight.
As coverage of Tokyo 2020 continues, we wanted to showcase some of the incredible women whose stories have moved us. These athletes have continued to train to be the best in their field, even with the adversity they’ve faced.
Here are five Tokyo Olympic athletes you may not have heard of, whose stories have inspired us.
- Oksana Chusovitina: Uzbekistan, Gymnastics
Making her Olympic debut at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Oksana Chusovitina has made history, having competed in eight Olympic Games to date. She said an emotional goodbye at Tokyo last week, receiving a standing ovation as she thanked those who have supported her during her almost 30-year career. The 46-year-old gymnast has represented the Soviet Union, her native country Uzbekistan, as well as Germany, as a way to thank the nation after her son received Leukaemia treatment there.
- Yusra Mardini: Refugee Olympic Team, Swimming
23-year-old Yusra Mardini’s story definitely saw us shed a tear (or several) at ENID HQ. Representing the Refugee Olympic Team, Yusra, fled her war-torn homeland of Syria, and survived a sinking refugee boat, helping to steer herself and 20 others to safety by swimming alongside the boat and towing it from the Turkish coast to Greece. Once they reached Greece, the refugees walked to Germany on foot, where Yusra spent six months in a Berlin refugee camp. Many athletes have said they’ll compete or fight “for their lives”, but Yusra has actually had to swim for her life. By representing the Refugee Olympic Team, she hopes to bring greater awareness to the plight of all refugees.
- Mary Hanana: Australia, Equestrian
Officially the oldest Olympian to be competing at Tokyo, this will be Australian Mary Hanna’s seventh Olympics. The dressage rider is the first female to qualify for six Olympic Games for Australia, and she is the second-oldest female Olympic athlete of all time, after Britain’s Lorna Johnstone, who competed in the 1972 in Munich, also in equestrian. In her own words, Mary says equestrian is a sport where age and gender don’t matter. “It’s about the relationship between you and the horse.”
- Skye Nicholson: Australia, Boxing
Skye Nicholson is the second person in her family to represent Australia in boxing at an Olympic level. Her brother, Jamie Nicholson, competed at Barcelona in 1992, but Skye would never get to meet her brother. The year before she was born, her two elder brothers Jamie and Gavin were killed in a car accident. Skye began boxing at age 12, and was always told she boxed just like her late brother, but it wasn’t until she was 18 that she watched videos of Jamie boxing, for the first time, and saw just how naturally similar their styles were. Whilst she says she definitely fights for Jamie, she strives to forge her own fighting legacy.
- Saya Sakakibara: Australia, BMX
21-year-old Aussie Saya Sakakibara is competing not just for herself in Tokyo, but also her older brother. Kai Sakakibara, 25, was severely injured whilst competing in a BMX World Cup race at the start of 2020, leaving him in a coma. After months of brain injury rehabilitation, Kai learnt how to walk and talk again. Kai left hospital just weeks before making his way to Tokyo, and will take part in the upcoming Paralympic Torch relay. This Olympics, Saya, also a BMX athlete, has dedicated her races to her brother, who would also be competing if not for his injury. These siblings are ones to keep your eye on.
We’re sure that there are many more stories just like these with the hundreds of Olympians competing in Tokyo — and we’re glad that for two weeks in the middle of winter we get to enjoy some sunshine and glory with the athletes as they realise their dreams. They are inspiring, and we will always be proud to celebrate their successes as we discover more great Olympic stories.